One of the pleasures of curating an exhibition is selecting and presenting great works of art: another is meeting lots of interesting people. At Dulwich Picture Gallery I had the pleasure of meeting Charlotte Way, relative of Whistler’s lithographic printers Thomas Way and his son Thomas R. Way. She has kindly allowed me to reproduce here photographs of the Ways, father and son.
This shows the young artist/lithographer Thomas R. Way, looking rather dashing. His correspondence with Whistler and book Memories of James McNeill Whistler (published in 1912), provide penetrating insights into the seriousness of Whistler as artists, craftsman and print-maker.
Another portrait, a photo of Way senior, Master Printer, shows a gentle, smiling, pleasant character, his looks concealing an astute business mind and strong sensibility in print-making. He had his own personal recipes for lithotint and refused to part with them, even to Whistler, although he instructed Whistler in its use, under his professional eye, in the printing office.
Study No. 1: Mr Thomas Way, 1896, lithograph (C.153), Hunterian.
Way’s son recorded that this portrait of his father was painted by gas-light late on a dark winter afternoon in 1896: the flickering light of the gas is echoed in the flickering, grainy strokes of the lithographic crayon.
Way printed proofs of Whistler’s last Nocturne,The Thames, which was drawn by the artist from the Savoy Hotel in 1896. Whistler and his wife Beatrice stayed at the hotel when she was very ill, struck with the cancer that caused herd eath in the following summer. The devastating associations of this lithotint with Beatrice’s suffering and death resulted in Whistler’s refusal to allow Way to print it. Way begged to be allowed to print a limited edition, because it was so very atmospheric and beautiful, but the darkness of the view reflected the depth of Whistler’s grief. Sadly, not only would he not allow it to be printed, but he broke with the Ways soon afterwards. Perhaps they were associated in his mind with the happiness of his early married life, when Beatrice had encouraged a revived interest in lithography. Of perhaps, in his overwrought state, he did not realise how foolish it was to quarrel with the printers who had printed so many of his finest iithographs.
The Thames, Whistler’s last Nocturne, stars in the show that opens next week at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC: An American in Paris: Whistler and the Thames. I am looking forward to it: and, as co-curator, highly recommend it to anyone in range of Washington!